Sikhs Sell Scotland

I was off to buy a Scottish flag yesterday. We needed one for today’s Fourth of July party. I wanted to reassure our Scottish guests that we really do like Scotland. It will hang next to the Stars and Stripes, sort of a good will reach across the pond.

There’s a “Scottish Shop” in town centre with all the tartan paraphernalia a guy could ask for. I’ve seen it and heard it before. You can’t miss the blare of canned bagpipe music pumping out the door. I haven’t been there before, but I needed a flag.

What surprised me were the owners of the shop. They were wearing turbans. Not what you’d expect to see in a “Scottish Shop.” They seemed nice enough, but it would be fascinating to trace the story of how they ended up hawking kitschy Scottish wares.

Did they open the store themselves or did they buy it from someone else? Are they interested in Scottish culture or are they just savvy enough to know that Scottish stuff sells regardless of the state of the economy? Do they like haggis?

They also had a great selection of kilts for sale and hire. But, somehow renting your wedding duds from a couple of Sikhs misses the mark, unless you look more closely at the history of the kilt in Scotland. It was originally a peculiar feature of the Highlands, but in the early 19th century, when a fifty year English ban on the dress was lifted, the kilt was pandered to the Scottish public by clever marketers who wanted to create a wave of Scottish nationalism. The kilt was bought and sold as a commodity of fashion, then and now.

Sikhs have protected status here in Scotland. In the driver’s handbook in the motorcycle section there is a statement to the fact that members of the Sikh religion do not have to wear helmets because their turbans are considered an expression of their religious heritage.

I wonder how much protection a turban actually provides for the guys who come off their bikes?

It always surprises me when I pick up the kids at primary school to see and hear the children of eastern descent speaking with a brogue. Their mothers still wear the garb of the Indian, but even they often have an accent. Clearly they were born here, second and third generation Scots.

There is also a mosque just around the corner from my church for the growing Muslim population of Hamilton. I’m not sure if they have an Imam who lives here, or one that travels here for services from Glasgow or Edinburgh. I certainly haven’t seen him turn out for meetings of the Minister’s Forum.

150 years ago it was the Irish who created an unsettling presence here in Scotland. They were literally hungry, having left Ireland with the potato famine. Theirs was a difficult integration. They came in numbers sufficient to create their own community and many Catholic churches were opened for their benefit. They were not always popular; many Scots felt that the Irish took their jobs and over the years the Protestant/Catholic divide has been a sadly painful aspect of Scots culture.

I wonder though, as it is in the US with Mexicans, are the immigrants simply doing the jobs that natives won’t do themselves?

Are there Scots who will sell me a flag or a tartan pack of cards or a pen with a floating double-decker bus?

Apparently there are, they just happen to wear turbans.

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